Sam Francis

Once at the extreme edge of American Abstract Expressionism, today Sam Francis might seem a mere “survivor.” He is not content with repeating himself, however, and working with intelligence and self-irony he makes distant, cool paintings that avoid the pitfalls of the caricature or the remake. The easily reproduced artworks of ’60s Pop art and the possibilities explored in the ’70s of such media as video, records, photography, and film probably were factors in Francis’ decision to abandon both the dramatic direction of Jackson Pollock’s drips and the rigorous flatness of Mark Rothko’s surfaces. He seems to be taking another look at his own earlier work—rethinking the biomorphism of the “Blue Balls” of the ’60s and incorporating his stylized drips of color in a system of geometric grids, giving them a Japanese “look” and nodding to the reductivism of minimal art.

The pieces here offered only a partial view of Francis’ work—the paintings from the last ten years and some small earlier works, like the two untitled pieces from 1965 and 1968. These latter were among the most interesting paintings in the show; in them Francis develops the idea of the center, letting a white middle area push the colored paint to the edges of the canvas. An untitled work from 1976 belongs to Francis’ mandala series, indispensable to understanding the later work. Structured like a Tibetan mandala, it too focuses on the center. For the most part, however, the more emotional paintings were missing—the molecular aggregations from the ’50s, the cosmic patterns from the ’60s; only one of the majestic works in the “Japan Line” series was present. The works here were more decorative, less dramatic, more formally perfect, and perhaps more in keeping with the recent revivalist climate, focused on the polished and spectacular, prevalent in certain art circles.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.